After qualifying at Suzuka last weekend, the news broke that the following day’s Japanese Grand Prix would be Jolyon Palmer’s last for the team. Renault are evidently keen to get Carlos Sainz in the car ahead of his full season with the team next year and this has left no room for Jolyon, who now finds his F1 career hanging by a thread.
Palmer’s career since joining Renault at the start of 2016 hasn’t been the easiest, with both the 2016 and 2017 cars hardly being world beaters. That being said though, talent still often finds a way to shine through (think Fernando Alonso in a McLaren-Honda), and in that department Jolyon has been sorely lacking.
It wasn’t all doom and gloom though, so to break down Palmer's career RealSport brings you a selection of the highs and lows from his time in F1.
Palmer made his debut for Renault (then known as Lotus) at the start of 2015 as a test driver, completing 77 laps at pre-season testing in Barcelona. This led to several more practice outings throughout the year, most notably in Spain where he finished ahead of Pastor Maldonado, then topped the timesheets on day two of the in-season test held immediately afterwards. These impressive outings led to Jolyon getting a full race seat for 2016.
He made a good start to his F1 career with a strong 11th place in Australia, narrowly missing out on points in his first race and beating his more experienced teammate, Kevin Magnussen, to the line. Across the 2016 season, Palmer would regularly finish ahead of his teammate, and despite a poor race in China where he finished dead last, and a smashing outing in Monaco in the wet, he was largely error free, if not particularly quick.
The main issue for Palmer in 2016 was that of points, and although Magnussen didn’t have many as the season wore on, he at least had some. Jolyon’s solitary point of the year came at Malaysia, and this led him to finish 18th in the drivers’ standings. Considering his teammate only finished in 16th though, and the team were well aware of the 2016 car’s shortcomings, the season could hardly be called a disastrous debut.
It was therefore understandable then that Renault would retain him for another season.
2017 starts with a crunch, and a whinge
Coming into 2017, the onus was on Palmer to show his potential. The team were now a season in to their return to the sport and were looking to make an early impression after struggling for much of 2016. Unfortunately for Jolyon though, he didn’t quite make the impression he was hoping for.
In FP2 in Melbourne, Palmer lost the rear of his car and slammed it into the barriers, forcing a rebuild on his car overnight. Then, when qualifying didn’t go his way, he proceeded to heavily criticise his team on live TV, seemingly ungrateful that they’d put in an all-nighter to get him out there in the first place. Outbursts like these were unfortunately repeated a few more times as the season wore on, and can’t have done much to endear him to either his team of mechanics, or the bosses upstairs.
He followed up his Australia mishap with another crash, this time in qualifying for the Russian GP, and then didn’t even make it round the first lap after colliding with Romain Grosjean’s Haas. At least this time he accepted it was his mistake and refrained from bashing the team as heavily as he had previously. Still, these performances were not what the team were after in a year when they were meant to be charging through the midfield.
One aspect of 2017 that has definitely not helped Palmer is the arrival of a new teammate. Over the winter Kevin Magnussen departed for Haas, and Renault brought in Nico Hulkenberg, one of the most highly rated drivers on the grid, to lead their resurgence effort. From here things really started to go off the rails for Palmer.
Whether it was the fact that Hulkenberg was clearly signed to be the team’s number one and this is playing on his mind, whether Hulkenberg is just that much better than Magnussen (sorry, Kevin), or whether Palmer just can’t get a handle on 2017’s new cars, the disparity between the two has been staggering, especially on Saturdays. Hulkenberg has outqualified Palmer at every single event, with a massive average gap of 0.888s, and the race record isn’t much better either, with Hulkenberg having scored 34 points to Palmer’s eight.
Despite already being under massive pressure by the time F1 got to this year’s Monaco Grand Prix, where the press were already speculating that the race in the principality would be his last, Jolyon finally began to show encouraging signs. He finished 11th at F1’s most glamorous race, the followed this up with another 11th place in Canada, before poor reliability denied him a good opportunity for points in Azerbaijan’s crazy race.
Palmer explained before Canada that his focus on Hulkenberg’s performance often led him to overdrive his car, and that he was now focussed on doing the best job that he could do for the team. This new mindset led to him finishing in front of Hulkenberg for the first time in 2017 with another 11th place finish in Austria, with Hulkenberg finishing 13th.
Whatever you think of Palmer’s driving ability, you have to concede that he has been on the end of some rotten luck this year, and this had to have some impact on his driving and confidence.
As mentioned above he retired in Azerbaijan with engine issues, had another blowout in Monaco practice that restricted his run time, and let's not forget the soul crushing retirement he endured at Silverstone as he failed to take the start due to a hydraulic leak. The Brit allegedly "burned his lucky underpants" before the Hungarian GP, but this didn't seem to help, and he was forced to retire from the Italian Grand Prix with transmission issues.
Palmer did create his own bad luck at times, but you have to admit that he often had a seemingly unfair amount of issues not of his own making coming his way.
The 2017 Singapore Grand Prix brought bad news for Jolyon. It was announced that, as part of a raft of announcements that included McLaren’s agreement to run Renault engines next year, as well as Toro Rosso’s to run Hondas, Carlos Sainz would move to Renault to partner Hulkenberg for 2018. This announcement meant that Palmer was left without a 2018 drive, but still with the opportunity to demonstrate his abilities over the remainder of the year (or so we/he thought at the time).
He would respond immediately, putting in what was easily the best drive of his career to come home an excellent sixth place and score his first points of the year. This result gave cause for Renault boss Cyril Abiteboulto hope that Palmer had been given a wake-up call, and that he could push on and help the team with the tight constructors’ battle in the midfield.
Reverting back to type
If Singapore was a watershed moment for Palmer, then the following race in Malaysia was the equivalent of him jumping right back into the water and drowning. He spun not once, but twice on his way to 15th place and, although this was still enough to beat Hulkenberg, who had his own problems, this was clearly the last straw for the team, and the announcement that Japan would be his last race followed less than a week later. This hardly seems like a coincidence.
In Palmer's final race for the team, and possibly in F1, he finished 12th, and way behind the probable finishing position of his teammate, who was on for a decent points finish before his DRS failed.
Looking to the future
Now that he is on the outside looking in, what could the future hold for Jolyon? There are still seats available for 2018, but these options appear to be quite narrow; Williams are currently evaluating Robert Kubica and Paul di Resta, Toro Rosso are only likely to look to Red Bull's young driver program for their drivers, and Ferrari are already leaning on Sauber to take Charles Leclerc and Antonio Giovinazzi after an engine deal for the Swiss outfit was confirmed earlier in the season.
The only really leaves spare seats at Haas and McLaren. Unfortunately for Jolyon though Haas have indicated they want to retain both their current drivers despite Romain Grosjean not having a contract yet, and McLaren are doing everything they can to keep Fernando Alonso at the team. This effectively narrows his options to nothing, though you would imagine his management are frantically trying to get him in the door at one of these teams, especially Williams.
The question we have to ask though is does he deserve another chance? Many drivers arrive in F1 only to leave without really getting a fair shot, and some don't even get that chance. Palmer has had two full seasons in the sport and has really failed to make a mark. He has been beaten by two different teammates, proved inconsistent in terms of his pace, and found a disturbing affinity with the various walls that line F1 circuits around the world.
What do you think?